Lofty speeches cannot wipe away the painful tears of hustlers and investors

President William Ruto during the first anniversary celebrations of Hustler Fund in Nairobi on Nov 30, 2023. [PCS]

In the run-up to the last General Election, this column published two letters in quick succession addressed to the incoming president. At that time, it was evidentially clear that the 5th president would either be Deputy President William Ruto or the Azimio candidate Raila Odinga.  

The import of the two articles was essentially that the economy was in worse shape than the official data was reporting. Notable issues that I highlighted were a faulty public-debt vendor-driven big infrastructure development model, exaggeration of employment data to serve the political interest of the day, a growth rate that was not supported by the consequent impact on government revenues, and political cronyism that served the men in power as opposed to the electorate.

Thus, for an objective observer, there could not have been any doubts as to the enormity of the job that awaited whoever emerged winner. Maybe only our chronically tribal politicians who are devoid of any sense of basic reason.  

Today, it is exactly 446 days since President Ruto was sworn into office. Articles 138-142 of the Constitution leave no window for conjecture as to how the office of the President of the Republic of Kenya is to be filled and the duration to be held.

Given the foregoing, and the economic realities of folks across the country, the times demand a candid and honest conversation with those entrusted with the instruments of power. Simply put, someone must tell the king that he is not only naked, but also only a minority, if any, believe in his alibis and exaggerations of truth.

The good news is that there is still time left to reset the sails of his leadership before it is too late. In this article, I postulate five critical issues that will ultimately decide the fate of the Kenya Kwanza administration.

Dear Mr President,

One, you must never forget the primary reason why the hustlers cast their lot with you against a well-oiled system of the incumbent. Scripture cautions each one of us to remember our humble beginnings and to guard against the spirit of pride. The Constitution guarantees freedom and right to worship, but it does not confer any rights for anyone to appropriate their faith or beliefs over State affairs. While it is not for us to judge, there is nowhere in scripture God is presented as a God of contradiction, confusion or disorder. Theologians can explain to us whether it is possible for God to contradict our established constitutional order, if indeed we truly believe and acknowledge His supremacy in its preamble.

Political coherence

The 2019 census estimates that about 86 per cent of the population are confessed Christians and another 11 per cent Muslims. The Hindus are less than one per cent. Thus, an estimated 97 per cent of the population acknowledge the existence of a supreme being who watches over the land and answers prayers for the nation. How then would we explain invoking the name of God over the ongoing El Nino phenomena in two contradictory propositions in under a month? It is difficult for any rational believer not to wonder which god spoke what? The chaotic response to its impact confirms a wide public perception that the administration is lacking in strategy and policy coherence.   

Two, no government or individual can cheat the invisible hand of the market. While the president and his men talk of a stellar job in their few days in office, the owners of capital lament of a grim and painful reality in the market place where they do business. The Federation of Kenya Employers (FKE) estimates that at least 70,000 jobs were lost in the formal private sector between October 2022 and October 2023. They report that at least 40 per cent of their members have declared a looming escalation of redundancies to adapt to their current operating environment.

To put these numbers into context, the formal sector created only 109,300 jobs in 2022. Thus, the jobs lost translate to 64 per cent of those created in the previous year. New jobs created in the formal sector in the immediate previous five years were 78,500; 78,400; minus 183,300; 172,300 and 109,300 between 2018 -2022, respectively. The 70,000 jobs lost in a year represent about 27.4 per cent of the total net jobs created in the formal sector over the five years.

The FKE singled out the new taxes imposed by the KK administration, regulatory and compliance burden, policy inconsistencies, dampened consumer purchasing power on account of a heavy tax burden on households, and low productivity of employees due to stress instigated by high living costs as key drivers of their capital allocation decisions.

So when the president talks of some unverifiable 120,000 informal jobs created in his signature affordable housing programme, should we believe him or the owners of the capital? In any case, at what point did a toxic and now considered discriminatory tax mutate into a magic job creator in the economy? If only the president could know of the songs of joy that filled the hearts of employed workers in the short hours after the Justice David Majanja led-bench ruling on Tuesday.   

Three, honesty is still the best policy – this is a timeless statement from John Mason’s classic of “Imitation is Limitation”. While it is true that lies are the currency of our politics, human decorum dictates that even lies and blame games have their limits. It is beyond the bounds of reason that the KK administration continues to blame the Jubilee administration for anything and everything.

Kenyans understand the mess that was the Jubilee administration. It is the very reason they voted them out. The question then is: why hasn’t the president not shown any tangible commitment to prosecute those that they blame for the mess we are in for their economic crimes? The Cabinet Secretary for Finance Njuguna Ndung’u admitted on Spice FM that a forensic audit was done on Eurobond 1, but he has never read it.

Surprisingly, no effort has been made to undertake a forensic audit on the national public debt accounts to determine their authenticity despite the blame laid on the Kenyatta administration on the same. Based on these facts, one can only wonder how much culpability is on the shoulders of those in power today over these economic crimes against the people.

Creative destruction

Four, no country in history has ever developed through externally driven policies. When all is said and done, the modern economic order leans on countries finding their own unique solutions to their own unique challenges at different phases of growth. This is the philosophy envisioned by our founding fathers in Sessional Paper No. 10 of 1965. As we dance in the courts of Bretton Woods conditionalities, we must never forget the consequent impacts of the Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs) of the 1980s and 1990s. Only fools miss the lessons of economic history.

Finally, economic transformations are driven by the forces of creative destruction. This means the old order must die first for the new order to emerge. Under what economic logic can a person with a basic sense of decency explain the rationale behind destroying formal jobs in order to create informal jobs? How can official policy be designed to turn the economy into a more informal one when the government is struggling to expand its tax net?

My concluding thoughts turn to what is evolving to be a Building Bridges Initiative 2 disguised as a national dialogue. Folks have more trouble accepting the Executive’s invitation to create jobs and line the pockets of politicians!  

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